Parents talking with their child Over the past few years, it sometimes feels like we’re waking up to more bad news every day. If you're wondering if – or how — to explain scary, sad or distressing situations to your children, Naline Lai, MD, FAAP, and Julie Kardos, MD, FAAP, CHOP pediatricians in Bucks County and co-founders of the Two Peds in a Pod blog, suggest relaying the facts about what is happening in a straightforward, age-appropriate manner.

“Even though an event may have taken place far away from home, the media can make it seem as if it happened next door,” says Dr. Lai.

It’s also important to talk about what happened to reassure kids they’re not the cause of any worry or tension they’re sensing.

“Kids can sense your emotions, even when you haven’t told them why you’re feeling a certain way,” says Dr. Kardos. “Not telling your children about an event that’s troubling you may make them concerned that they’re to blame for any worried or hushed conversations they overhear.”

Need more help having tough conversations with your kids? Dr. Lai and Dr. Kardos shared the following tips:

  • Offer concrete answers to your kids’ questions, but don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
  • If your kids ask, “Will that happen here?” or “Why did that happen?” keep your answers simple and straightforward. For instance, you can say, “I don’t know, but many people are working hard to prevent something like that from happening here.”
  • Consider answering questions with a question. Asking, “What do you think?” will give you an idea of exactly what your child fears.
  • Reach out to others for help answering tough questions. For example, you can speak with your pediatrician, a minister or school counselor to see what they have to say.
  • Routine is reassuring to children, so turn off the background of 24-hour TV and internet coverage of the event. Instead, get schoolwork done, go outside with your kids to play, or have your kids help you make dinner.
  • Suggest ways for your kids to do something tangible that is helpful to those affected by recent events. They can put aside part of their allowance for a donation or ask a local business to host a donation bucket. You can also encourage your children to draw on cards, posters and even your driveway or sideway to express their feelings, bring people together and show others that kindness matters.

“Children need to know that adults are comfortable discussing concerning events, letting them know that we are also affected and that we will listen to them and be there for them,” adds Tami D. Benton, MD, Psychiatrist-in-Chief at CHOP.

If your child seems overly anxious and fearful, and their worries are interfering with their ability to conduct their daily activities, such as performing at school, sleeping, eating, and maintaining strong relationships with family and friends, it’s important to seek professional help.

The most important things you, as a parent, can do are to help your children feel secure in themselves and in the world around them. You may not hold all the answers to why a tragedy strikes, but you do hold the ability to comfort and reassure your children.

For more advice on this topic, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website.


For more support, view these resources from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network:

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